When Luz Maria Pardo, originally from Mexico City, talks about life, her enthusiasm is palpable. An entrepreneur and community leader, she lights up in the face of a new challenge, constantly looking for innovative solutions to make the best of her new Canadian experience, which began in Toronto in 2007.
“I am a person who loves puzzles,” says Pardo, referring, in part, to her own tumultuous but inspiring journey, which has included a 12-years-long wait to receive her permanent resident status.
“When putting together a puzzle, the last piece seems to be the easiest, though that’s usually not true. Sometimes, the last piece does not appear, and we think, and we look, and yet, the piece doesn’t show up. And I wonder, ‘What am I doing here? It shouldn’t be that hard!’ But then, gently, we let it go. And suddenly we look at the piece, and we turn it around, and we say, ‘Oh, if I had just looked at it this way, then it would fit!’ And with that, the puzzle is finally complete.”
But while she’s fought to put the pieces of her own life’s puzzle together, she’s always kept the question of how to help others in their own journey close to her heart.
After arriving in Canada as refugees, Pardo and her husband, Fernando Piñeiro, whom she refers to as “her unsung hero,” noticed that many refugee families were lacking access to proper child care, especially during the summer breaks when children were off school.
As a result, they found, kids were often neglected, as many parents had to work long hours to try to combine incomes in order to afford rent in a city as expensive as Toronto. Even then, many still had trouble making ends meet.
Always attuned to their entrepreneurial instincts, in 2010, Pardo and her husband founded Light Your Life, which eventually partnered with the Toronto District School Board to design summer camps to engage children and youth from low-income communities and give them a safe, nurturing place to be. At the Light Your Life camps, kids played sports, did art, and engaged in activities to help the environment.
But the mission went beyond that.
“We sing loud, because a lot of these kids have a need for expression. But also, sometimes, they come from very troubled homes, and they simply want to be heard. So, we also listen…very attentively, because an ear that listens compassionately might help them overcome their traumas, and change their lives for good,” says Pardo, who enthusiastically describes how the experience of Light Your Life helped prepare her for the curveballs that would come her way both in business and in life.
Twist of fate
Three years ago, after a happy 2018 Christmas Eve, the latest test came knocking on her door.
For Mexican Catholic families, Christmas is synonymous with joy and redemption. It is when families get together and, for at least a day, put aside grudges to open the door to forgiveness and love, to dancing and singing and eating; a respite from whatever hardships they might have had to endure throughout the year.
In this context, Christmas also means hope, particularly for change. There is a quote that sums it up, which many Mexican children grow up hearing: We are wishing for a Christmas miracle.
It was no different for Pardo. For her, Christmas Eve 2018 was supposed to be full of delight, of triumph, of cheerful clinks — not only because it was Christmas, but also because she had, finally, received her much awaited permanent resident card.
“That evening was very fun. I danced with my husband to old melodies,” she recalls.
“You know, those that get you down memory lane. We were up late, laughing, sharing. I remember my son arriving at two in the morning, and I served him a plate of birria, a traditional Mexican dish.”
Unfortunately, sometimes the miracles that come are not always the ones we expect. What came later, Pardo explains, would mean yet another twist of fate in her eventful life.
“We went to bed, and suddenly I started feeling unwell. I said to my husband, ‘I’m not feeling too great.’ And I have the vague memory of seeing him, sitting there with me, and that is the last thing I saw. After that, it was all blank,” reminisced Pardo in an emotional interview with New Canadian Media originally conducted in Spanish in which she chronicled the events that led to what she considers “her latest rebirth.”
The “blank,” it turns out, was the result of a cardiac arrest, which was followed by a stroke. When she next woke up, she was in the hospital, and the forecasts for her recovery were grim.
But Pardo is no stranger to struggle, nor is she scared of defying the odds. In fact, her whole journey has been about challenging conventions, and her time in Canada has been no exception.
For starters, despite applying for a permanent resident card at the same time as her other family members with whom she arrived, she was the last to receive it, 12 years later. Now, everyone is a permanent resident of Canada, and some of her family members are already processing their citizenship applications.
Pardo sees resourcefulness as one of her key traits; her faith as the other. In fact, along with a spark of creativity and out-of-the box thinking, it’s these qualities that helped her launch her latest business selling nutrition supplements.
“Because of my physical therapy, and my recovery process, I have found that I have fewer working hours than the average person,” she says.
“However, I am determined not to use that as an excuse. All the opposite, how can I use that to my advantage, and be more focused?”
That’s why her new endeavour draws on her previous experiences owning and running “two very successful nutrition-related businesses in Mexico,” she says, adding that, together with growing her company, her other goal is now to recover the ability to walk.
“According to the medical diagnosis, I will not walk again. But according to my faith, I will,” she affirms, as she reflects on how, regardless of the individuality and independence of the natural-born entrepreneur, at the end of the day, we all need a support system that we can trust.
“We need to learn to live with the help of others,” she mentions. “And , of course, a person that is as independent as I am can learn to live that way, but…not without some suffering.”
Learning to accept the help of others might not have been as easy if it wasn’t for her husband, whom she recalls visited her every day at the hospital.
“He was the equivalent of Patch Adams,” she says, laughing, recalling the spark of joy that his jokes brought not only for her, but for the hospital’s staff.
Now, having survived the stroke and out of the hospital, and a proud permanent resident to boot, Pardo remains joyful, committed, and excited about the prospects for her new stage in life, where her wish is to build a successful business that creates a positive impact.
“What is unacceptable is to be alive, and not to live. Because that is cowardly,” she says. “As long as we are here, as long as there is life, there is opportunity.”